Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer Review

It wasn’t long ago that I saw Janelle Monae on countless red carpets in sometimes-outrageous outfits and people going crazy for her. And I had no idea who she was. Then she goes and drops singles like Make Me Feel, Django Jane and I Like That – which is when I realised that her red carpet looks aren’t her biggest statements.

Back when Make Me Feel was released and I was reading into the lyrics, I picked up on the line: “an emotional sexual bender.” These were the first hints of her new album, Dirty Computer, being her most personal and sincere yet. These intimate themes weave throughout the track list, with many songs touching on race, sexuality – particularly poignant for an artist who recently came out as pansexual – and gender equality, with often bold instrumentalism to match.

The album opens with the eponymous song; featuring Brian Wilson, it’s a slow, reflective starter with hard-hitting lyrics, but kicks off a stream of delightful synth-filled numbers. Track number two – Crazy, Classic, Life – is a rhythmic tune with a hushed glow, deliberating liberation, with Take a Byte following in the same subtly funky vein, the euphoric bass at its epicentre.

Following that is Jane’s Dream, a snappy interlude that bridges the softer notions of the previous tracks to the more audacious, and frankly better, numbers. This is where singles’ Make Me Feel and Django Jane show their faces, with the former’s infectious tongue-clicks, squelchy bass and summery feel making it an album highlight, and the latter’s brave attempt at rap – so distinctive from the rest of the album, but also not out of place, is an exciting addition. Preceding Django Jane on the track list is Screwed; a slick, guitar-based number featuring Zoe Kravitz that celebrates sex amidst destruction. Pynk is a popping, pulsating, quietly brilliant number, with Monae’s soft vocals and luscious harmonies layered over finger-snaps before guitars explode for the chorus. Rounding off the effervescent pop of the middle section of Dirty Computer is I Got The Juice; a sizzling hot collaboration with Pharrell, this is perhaps the most radio-ready of the lot, with some of the catchiest lyrics on the album.

I Like That follows like a gentle wave that introduces the ‘come down’ section of the album. While the single is still fierce, it is a peaceful protest, with it’s confident lyrics married with a muted backing track. Don’t Judge Me is a dark horse; it may not be as instrumentally challenging as some of its predecessors, but it’s smooth use of orchestra and acoustic, together with very raw, very straight-from-the-heart lyricism makes it an asset to Dirty Computer. So Afraid comes close to its beauty but can’t quite compare. Americans – the album’s final offering – is a final push for revolution, rejuvenating the last portion of the track list with its choir-like harmonies and upbeat instrumentalism, but also alongside cheesy spoken word from a sampled speech that just doesn’t really sit right. Considering the maturity and strength of the rest of the album, this element just seems a little theatrical.

I can see why so many people are extremely excited about this album; it is brutally honest and has some astonishing tracks. They may not be completely groundbreaking, but it is a thrilling lot of unpredictable songs. The only question is: how had I not really known who Janelle Monae was sooner?

Janelle Monae: Dirty Computer – 7/10

Ellie Chivers

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